Gut bacteria appear to play a role in multiple sclerosis development.
Exposure to certain gut bacteria – particularly in young adulthood – may trigger multiple sclerosis, according to researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
In a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers discovered that age, gut bacteria and the genes associated with multiple sclerosis seem to trigger the disease and have more of an adverse health impact at a younger age.
Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut, director of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Center for Multiple Sclerosis and coauthor of the study, with Kouichi Ito and Sudhir Yadav, said continued research could lead to therapies that would eliminate harmful types of gastrointestinal bacteria shown to cause MS progression and enhance bacteria that would protect people against the disease.
“The findings could have therapeutic implications on slowing down MS progression by manipulating gut bacteria,” says Dhib-Jalbut.
In the United States, approximately 400,000 individuals are living with MS, an autoimmune disease for which there is no known cause, which attacks the protective coating of nerve fibers in the central nervous system and causes walking difficulties, muscle weakness and numbness or tingling in the face, body or extremities.
In the Rutgers study, mice were genetically engineered with human MS-associated risk genes. The research team discovered that when the mice were in a sterile, germ-free environment, they did not exhibit any signs of the disease.
However, when placed in a normal environment exposed to bacteria, the mice developed autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an MS-like disease and inflammation in their bowels. This, researchers say, suggests that gut bacteria are a risk factor that triggers MS disease development.
The study also found that adolescent or young adult mice were more prone to develop the MS-like disease than older mice. This may happen because the older animals have acquired more immunity to the bacteria because of their age, researchers say.
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